Joe Biagini, pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays, apologized for being late for his interview because of his much-needed work out. With tongue-in-cheek Joe smiled and emphasized, “God would want me to give my best effort into my game.”
Biagini, a 2011 26th round draft pick for the San Francisco Giants, struggled the first couple of years in professional baseball. He spent time in the off-season with his dad, a former minor-league player, trying to figure out what was missing. He kept thinking about pitching mechanics and mental and physical stuff, but he could never trust it. Joe shares, “I remember the off-season after my second year going into high “A” ball with the San Jose Giants. I was thinking,” I don’t want to play anymore if it’s going to be like this, always sad, making excuses, and covering all the bad reasons I’m not doing well. I realized God has provided me opportunities with physical skills and all that goes with it, but I was not taking advantage of using all of it.”
Joe believed God wanted him to be the “ultimate Christian competitor, to be aggressive, and attack the batter.” Joe states, “I was never really able to do that before. At the beginning of that off-season, I remember making the conscious decision to pray about this and finally involve God into my baseball experience. I was trying to avoid it and trying to handle it myself. God put me in this position and gave me all the tools, why wouldn’t he know how I can best serve him in this capacity.”
The 2013 off-season was a time of change and a time of commitment. Joe continues sharing, “I finally said to myself that I am just going to give it to God. I am going to pray about it and put it in His hands. I am going to let him change me because he has the power to change me. I kept thanking him for the opportunity in baseball and I kept thanking him for the position I was in. That off-season was the first time in my life I had this first significant, tangible change of attitude and spirit that came out through baseball. It was the first time I experienced a wholesome change in my perspective, and I believe God is the only reason for that change.”
Joe Biagini grew up in a Christian home with parents, Robert (Rob) and Michelle, and younger sister, Cailley. With a smile and a dash of humor, Joe comments, “For me, it is a stereo typical Christian story of growing up in the church, having Christian parents, being spoon fed my faith throughout my childhood, and going to Christian middle and high school. I became a Christian “officially” in 6th grade one night when talking with my mom. (He accepted Jesus as his Savior). Honestly, the reason I am a Christian is my parents are Christians.”
“Head Over Heart”
Biagini explains further, “I always wished I had some miraculous story of how I found God and realized I needed Him. I was always told to accept the fact without really coming to it from a more emotional or spiritual based angle. I was more head over heart, the kind of person who is more cognitive and mindful. The decisions I make and things I believe in originate in what logically makes sense to me. Then it changes how my heart accepts Christ as Savior instead of an emotional experience.”
The Biagini family moved to Santa Clara, California, where he went to Kings Academy. Joe had some great influences at the school including his favorite, Joe Maemone, the anatomy and Bible teacher. Maemone is now the athletic director, and he asked Joe for a jersey to be hung in the school. Joe, then, went to College of San Mateo because he was not sure how baseball would pan out. It was the school Joe’s dad attended. After two years, Joe transferred to the University of California at Davis for his junior year where he spent time working on his mechanics and adjustments after coming off Tommy John surgery. At UC Davis he was trying to balance competitiveness and winning with trying to relearn and adjust his pitching so he would not hurt his arm. Joe shares, “I wish I had been in a better physical and mental state where I was competing better so I could actually have a decent output at Davis. I felt I wasn’t doing a good job of being a good teammate and competitor at times because I still had to learn all the adjustments needed to move on.” Joe did move on when he was drafted in the 26th round by the Giants. He made his major league debut April 8, 2016, for the Toronto Blue Jays with a perfect ninth inning against the Boston Red Sox as well as getting his first strike out on future Hall of Famer, David Ortiz. His first win came that year on May 3 over the Texas Rangers.
“Seeking Fulfillment in God Before Other Things”
Everyone has struggles and hardships and professional athletes are no different. Biagini shares his perspective, “When someone asked me why I need to pray, my answer is always ‘seeking fulfillment in God before other things.’ I am always tempted to think that I will be fulfilled by some other pursuits besides God. That temptation basically controls my whole life. As a Christian, I must realize the infinitely, powerful Creator of the Universe has a little better idea of what I need in my life than I do. I am going to resist to think anything is going to fulfill me over God, looking to God first and seeking fulfillment in him first. All my struggles resolve around that perspective.”
Toronto teammate, Gavin Floyd, shares, “What I like most about Joe is that he’s the same guy on and off the field, striving to be an impact for God. He’s transparent about his relationship with Christ, and I am encouraged by him that through new challenges and trials he stayed strong in his faith.”
Matthew 10: 38-39, “Anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose It, whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” is Biagini’s favorite Scripture verses. Joe looks to this Scripture as he focuses on witnessing his faith, and one he correlates with his baseball experience. He explains, “I was never a good player growing up. I was never a “big time” prospect, and I always asked myself “why me?” As I drew closer to getting to baseball’s top level, I realized I had to change my thinking to “why not me?” I had to start thinking in positive terms instead of negative. The positive is I believe God put me in this position for a purpose. For all things to lineup my whole life to get me to this point, I can’t imagine any other reason than God specifically saying, ‘I want you here.’”
“A Bigger Reason”
Joe mentioned that making a bunch of money and being a really good player (strike people out) was not God’s reason for him being in the
big leagues. He expands his thoughts, “God calls me to be the best player I can be. There must be a bigger reason as to why I am here, or I don’t think God would put me in this position. I don’t think making a bunch of money would be best for my soul, or tempting me to think I don’t need God. That transition of my mindset has been helping me to understand this is the greatest opportunity I have to witness to other people about what God has done for me in my life.”
Although it is not always easy to witness to peers, Biagini has found a huge opportunity in the clubhouse. He has found his peers are respectful to different views, beliefs and opinions. Joe states, “I have always been hesitant to share; but since I have been in the major leagues, I have seen that it has been easier to share what I believe. Teammates are respectful and are willing to hear what I believe and what is true about our faith and eternal life. We have had great conversations. It has been a fulfilling experience even beyond playing.”
Outside of baseball Joe has found the opportunity to use his platform to share with fans. He is one who usually lets his actions do the talking regarding his faith. He takes opportunities in interviews and interactions with those outside the clubhouse to use his influence in sharing why he believes he is in the major leagues and why he shares his faith.
“An Authentic Believer”
Blue Jays chaplain, Matt Bowler, shares, “Joe is an authentic Believer who is seeking to continue to grow in his personal relationship with Jesus. He is not ashamed of his faith and is often looking for opportunities to share that faith with his teammates. When it comes to chapel, he will often invite those who don’t normally attend. It has been great having an active chapel representative for baseball chapel.”
Joe has been involved with several Christian sports organizations over the years. When he was attending UC Davis, he had a really good experience with Athletes in Action (AIA). It was organized and run by students. He also had a good relationship with one of the adult leaders, Davis attorney Shiloh Sorbello, who welcomed him into his group since he was a new transfer student. Joe was also familiar with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). The Spanish-speaking chaplain for the Giants, Rigo Lopez, helped FCA with camps held at Santa Clara University. Joe participated with the baseball skills and later shared his faith with campers.
Pro Athletes Outreach (PAO) holds annual conferences where players and families come together to worship and share in Bible studies. Other seminars are given about Christian marriage, finances and other life issues. Joe has attended four PAO conferences, and he was baptized by White Sox chaplain, Mickey Weston, at his first PAO conference. Weston is a director for the Unlimited Potential Inc. which includes athletes and spouses on missionary trips.
Biagini lives with his parents in Santa Clara during the off-season, at least for now. Joe is single, but does have a significant other, Chenny Zhang. The story goes that Joe and some friends went to a young adult church group in Menlo Park, California. Joe shares, “This pretty girl was on the ‘greet team’ and was the first person we saw when we arrived. We got to talking to find out we knew some of the same people, and we went to the same high school one year apart. We stayed involved with the same group of friends. Chenny went to Boston College, and she came to a game at Fenway Park in April, 2016. It was there I asked her out for the first time. I am excited to see how the Lord will take this to a lifelong commitment!” In the off-season Joe and Chenny enjoy worshiping together at Westgate Church in San Jose.
Proverbs 3:8-9 helps Biagini from ever getting to the point of being tempted that he does not need God. “…give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say who is the Lord? Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.” Joe confesses, “I had to come to grips with my mental understanding of what my faith is going to be. We must choose God and pursue Him and do it out of the gratitude for what we believe he has done for us. I must choose God every day, and the challenge for me is maintaining the appreciation and effort to pursue God even though it’s difficult to conjure up the emotional aspect of it.”
Written by Bruce A. Darnall, Lake Mills, Wisconsin
Photos by Toronto Blue Jays